I can’t compete with Keith on baseball, but I believe that I have a comparably fiendish political quiz, consisting of only one question:
What famous American supported Bob La Follette for President in 1924, Al Smith in 1928, and Alf Landon in 1936?
By “famous” I mean that virtually every reader of this blog would recognize the name. By “fiendish” I mean that I don’t think I would have been able to guess the answer, had I not stumbled across it looking up another fact about the person concerned.
I’ll leave the answer to the comments. No Googling, please.
Update We have a winner! Keith B. receives a free lifetime subscription to the RBC.
Keith B. even gets the motivations mostly right: Mencken supported La Follette on character, Smith partly as a Wet but primarily, again, on character, and Landon because he hated Roosevelt. In the case of La Follette there was a secondary motivation: “Fighting Bob” opposed American entry into World War I because he hated war; Mencken also opposed it, because (as also a quarter of a century later) he wanted his beloved Germany to win.
Mencken on La Follette:
There remains then, the Wisconsin Red, with his pockets stuffed with Soviet gold. I shall vote for him unhesitatingly, and for a plain reason: he is the best man in the running, as a man. There is no ring in his nose. Nobody owns him. Nobody bosses him. Nobody even advises him. Right or wrong, he has stood on his own bottom, firmly and resolutely, since the day he was first heard of in politics, battling for his ideas in good weather and bad, facing great odds gladly, going against his followers as well as with his followers, taking his own line always and sticking to it with superb courage and resolution.
Suppose all Americans were like LaFollette? What a country it would be! No more depressing goose-stepping. No more gorillas in hysterical herds. No more trimming and trembling. Does it matter what his ideas are? Personally, I am against four-fifths of them, but what are the odds? They are, at worst, better than the ignominous platitudes of Coolidge. They are better than the evasions of Davis. Roosevelt subscribed to most of them, and yet the country survived. Whatever may be said against them, there is at least no concealment about them. LaFollette states them plainly. You may fancy them or you may dislike them, but you canâ€™t get away from the fact that they are whooped by a man who, as politicians go among us, is almost miraculously frank, courageous, honest and first-rate.
The older I grow the less I esteem mere ideas. In politics, particularly, they are transient and unimportant. To classify men by examining them is to go back to the stupid days of conscientious Republicans and life-long Democrats. Let us leave such imbecilities to Ku Kluxers, Fundamentalists and readers of the New York Tribune. There are only men who have character and men who lack it. LaFollette has it. There is no shaking or alarming him. He is devoid of caution, policy, timidity, basenessâ€”all immemorial qualities of the politician. He is tremendous when he is right, and he is even more tremendous when he is wrong.
The argument against him seems to follow two lines: that he is a red radical and in secret communiion with the Russians, and that he was against the late war and refused to support it. The first allegation is chiefly voiced by the Hon. Mr. Dawes, a man wholly devoid of honor. It is met by the plain fact that all the American communists are opposed to LaFollette and denounce him with great bitterness. The second charge is well-grounded. LaFollette not only voted as a Senator, against American participation in the war; he also refused flatly to change his views when he failed to prevent it.
What followed is well remembered. While the uproar lasted he was practically barred from the Senate Chamber. His colleagues, eager to escape contamination, avoided him; he was reviled from end to end of the country; all the popularity and influence he had built up by years of struggle vanished almost completely. Try to imagine any other American politician in that situation. How long would it have taken him to grab a flag and begin howling with the pack? How much would his beliefs and principles have weighed against the complete collapse of his career? I attempt no answer. I simply point to the other Senators who had been, before the declaration of war, in the same boat.
But LaFollette stuck. The stink-bombs burst around him, but still he stuck. The work of his whole life went to pieces, but still he stuck. Weak friends deserted him and old enemies prepared to finish him, but still he stuck. There is no record that he hedged an inch. No accusation, however outrageous, daunted him. No threat of disaster, personal or political, wabbled him for an instant. From beginning to end of those brave and intelligent days he held fast to his convictions, simply, tenaciously, and like a man.
I repeat my question: Suppose all Americans were like him? In particular, suppose all politicians among us were like him? Suppose trimming went out of fashion, and there were an end of skulkers, dodgers and safe men? It is too much, perhaps, to hope for, even to dream of. LaFollette will be defeated tomorrow, as he deserves to be defeated in a land of goose-steppers and rubber-stamps. The robes of Washington and Lincoln will be draped about a man who plays the game according to the American rules.
Mencken on Smith:
It is difficult to make out how any native Marylander, brought up in the tradition of this ancient commonwealth, can fail to have a friendly feeling for Al Smith in the present campaign. He represents as a man almost everything Maryland represents as a State. There is something singularly and refreshingly free, spacious, amiable, hearty, and decent about him. Brought up in poverty, and educated, in so far as he got any education at all, in the harsh school of the city streets, he has yet managed somehow to acquire what is essentially an aristocratic point of view, the habit and color of a gentleman. He is enlightened, he is high-minded, he is upright and trustworthy. What Frederick the Great said of his officers might well be said of him: he will not lie, and he cannot be bought. Not much more could be said of any man.